As long as I can remember, my dad was committed to writing a novel and getting it published. A journalist by day, Dad would come home and eat dinner with the family, linger to chat about the day’s affairs, and then retreat to his den to write his books. During those two hours of nightly novelizing, Dad’s office was sacrosanct; unless it was an emergency, you just didn’t bother him there. You certainly didn’t knock on his door and say, “Dad I’m bored” — not unless you enjoyed a sharp retort and an exasperated “harumph”. Needless to say, we all gave him his space. You just don’t mess with a bear in his cave.
Did I like my Dad’s imposed evening solitude? Of course not! Both my brother and I begrudged Dad all those lost domestic hours. But over the years, I’ve grown to respect his dogged commitment to the task. Although he never actually got published, Dad wrote at least three novels over a 30+ year period, dutifully mailing off chapter after chapter to prospective publishers. Why didn’t he self-publish, you ask? You try spending the next three decades writing unpublished novels and then tell me you haven’t developed a stubborn streak. Dad was old-school: when you set a plan (ie. get picked up by an established publishing house) you don’t waver until the job is done. Even as he was dying of lymphoma at age 80, my Dad was still fighting for more time…even a few more months… to get his latest book finished and published.
Eighty years is a long time to live and my Dad wasn’t even a particularly strong man, physically. Contracting polio when he was 17 years old, he suffered post-polio symptoms throughout his adult life…watching his legs gradually wither down to the size of a normal person’s arms. Using a cane user since my first memories, Dad was pretty much limited to a wheel chair by his 70s. He didn’t exercise; he ate a good amount of meat; he hated green vegetables; he had type 2 diabetes. Although not a heavy man, he certainly had his health issues. And yet he lived to 80! My guess is that if he hadn’t gotten cancer, he would’ve pushed on into his 90s. What kept Dad going was his keen, curious mind. He loved reading. He enjoyed playing with his computer and teaching the other seniors in his retirement residence how to navigate the internet. He was never happier than when he was out in the common area, zipping around in his electric wheelchair, striking up conversations and climbing on his soapbox to discuss music, religion and politics. Dad had community and he had purpose.
Which brings me to Blue Zones. Perhaps you’ve heard about them. In his book best-selling book, “Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer (from the people who lived the longest)”, National Geographic journalist and explorer Dan Buettner examines the handful of cultures in the world that are breaking records in overall health and longevity. These cultures include people living in Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Icaria (Greece), and among the Seventh-day Adventists of Loma Linda, California, Although wildly divergent in their ethnic and genetic make up, these cultures have a few things in common, namely:
- They follow a predominantly plant-based diet
- They lead active lifestyles
- They have a strong sense of community
- The live with purpose
Although my Dad didn’t meet all 4 criteria above, he surely did enough to make it to his ninth decade. With his strong sense of community and purpose, he lead a long, engaged life. Just think how much longer he might have lived if he had fortified his diet with more fruits and vegetables and committed more effort to exercise! (Even with his weakened limbs, Dad was able to hold his own in a swimming pool).
I believe there is much that leaders in the workplace can take away from Blue Zones (and from my Dad as well). After all, what leader doesn’t want their team to last a long time? Who doesn’t hope that his co-workers will thrive and maintain their productivity for the long-term? Fortunately, the Blue Zone blueprint is right there in front of us for the taking, namely:
- Promote a healthy diet and exercise in your department
- Provide frequent opportunities to get out of the office together, building community
- Communicate your culture’s purpose as clearly and and as powerfully as you can and help your staff align that purpose with their own aims and goals.
Who knows? You team could be exceeding quotas (and writing books) into their 80’s!